Exclusive: Joey Bada$$ Talks Partnership With NYC Fund for Public Schools to Benefit Homeless Youth

Illustration for article titled Exclusive: Joey Bada$$ Talks Partnership With NYC Fund for Public Schools to Benefit Homeless Youth
Photo: Dimitrios Kambouris (Getty Images)

Rapper, actor and Pro Era collective co-founder Joey Bada$$ tells The Root that each year, he creates a list of goals he aims to accomplish for the next 365 days. The Brooklyn native explains that one of 2020’s biggest goals is to go full-throttle with his philanthropic endeavors. He announced Wednesday that he’s partnered with New York City’s Fund for Public Schools and the Department of Education to service homeless youth in his home city, making his goal a reality while helping hundreds of thousands of children and teens get a jump start on theirs.

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“This is something that I’m passionate about,” the charismatic 25-year-old says over the phone. “I have a huge vision for the future. I’m going to continue doing things like this. I want to always be giving back to kids like me who come from where I come from, just to increase their chances of getting to where they want to get to.”

As a product of the NYC public school system, Joey (born Jo-Vaughn Scott) explains that growing up, he had classmates who experienced challenges similar to the children he aims to help through his extraordinary partnership. Of the 1.1 million students enrolled in New York City public schools, over 110,000 are homeless, per a report from Advocates for Children. Unsurprisingly, 85 percent of these students are Hispanic or black, and homelessness itself carries a broad definition; per The Coalition for the Homeless, it’s not solely what’s portrayed as sleeping on the streets or subway seats–it can also mean living in municipal shelter systems and severely overcrowded temporary housing.

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“We started doing our research, and immediately got in contact with the New York City Department of Education (NYCDOE) and the Fund for Public Schools,” Joey explains of his targeted decision to aid homeless youth. “Now that I’m in a position of power where I can help out, it was instantly, immediately, just a no-brainer...it was divine alignment. it was just timing.”

“We’re grateful to Joey, as a former New York City public school student, for stepping up during this unprecedented crisis to support some of our most vulnerable students,” said Julie L. Shapiro, Chief Executive Officer of the Fund for Public Schools. “Investing in the success and stability of students experiencing homelessness is a key priority for our City, and we’re proud to be able to deploy additional resources that can support their remote learning, as well as their physical and social-emotional well-being.”

The Fund for Public Schools is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that makes all donations tax-deductible. The Fund has been a partner to the NYCDOE since 1982, and aims to respond to the emerging necessities of students in New York City’s public schools as expeditiously as possible by directing donations toward areas identified by the NYCDOE as being “of greatest need.”

The fundraising effort supports the NYCDOE in providing food insecure students with three meals a day and first responders, healthcare and transit workers with quality childcare during the crisis. It also helps to provide funds to support higher education and career readiness opportunities for high school students and helps to implement high-quality teaching and learning through technological accessories such as internet connectivity, social emotional supports for students, and learning accessories like headphones—which, as a musician, Joey instantly resonated with.

“The NYCDOE told us that initially an emerging need for students were headphones, because [schools have] switched to online learning,” he explains. “And a lot of these kids are in homeless shelters or temporary housing, where you’re living on top of other people. They couldn’t focus on their studies without things like headphones…[headphones are] useful to listen to music, too, and music is like [an] escape for kids in these situations as well.” The Fund is shifting gears to support students in continuing to learn over the summer, and in providing essentials for students that we may even take for granted, like art supplies, reading materials, and personal care items, proving that nothing is too unimportant for them to need.

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No stranger to community outreach and activism, Joey says it’s in his DNA to help others. The musician, who burst onto the scene in 2012 with his debut mixtape 1999, has devoted his personal life to helping his home city and around the country.

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In 2018, he donated $10,000 to Communities United for Police Reform in New York City, and in 2017, he held a donation drive with Pro Era and Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams for victims of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma called Storm of Support. Given that he’s the child of Caribbean parents, news of the storms’ devastation hit him especially hard. In 2014, shortly after making it big, Joey donated $10,000 in production equipment and instruments to his alma mater, Edward R. Murrow High School through a successful partnership with the J Dilla Foundation and Akomplice Clothing. All proceeds from the partnership were donated to his former high school.

Joey even places the ideals paramount to his personal foundation on wax. His last album, 2017’s All-Amerikkkan Bada$$ finds him musing about larger issues central to his experiences as a black American—he dubs “Land of the Free” and “Temptation” as two songs in his catalog that best encapsulate his highly-involved essence.

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“I’ve always just been a magnanimous type of personality,” he explains of his “giving heart,” an attribute he shares with his father, which Joey deems both “a blessing and a curse.” “Your heart literally tells you that it’s an inconvenience to not help, more than it’s an inconvenience that helping will slow you down on your own individual path.”

Musician Joey Bada$$ at his Storm of Support charitable donation event in 2017, which benefitted victims of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.
Musician Joey Bada$$ at his Storm of Support charitable donation event in 2017, which benefitted victims of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.
Photo: Dee Knows
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Joey is donating $25,000 to The Fund for Public Schools through the campaign and is enlisting some famous friends to get in the giving spirit. He tells The Root that fellow rapper Denzel Curry matched his donation, and he’s also garnered interest from Grammy-nominated emcee YBN Cordae and fellow Brooklynites Flatbush Zombies. He says that being able to help others should not be viewed as a flex of wealth, but a flex of character, and hopes that his actions can inspire others to do the same.

“I think it’s a blessing to be in a position of abundance,” he explains. “I look at it like I’m ready to give back at any stage of my career, Diddy money or Joey Bada$$ money. It is deeper than money because with this platform, it becomes about awareness. It’s awareness alone that’s going to drive changes for the future more than money will…It’s something that I live by, you know? Even if I don’t have much, I’ll give something. If I can’t give the money, I’ll give my efforts or I’ll give my support.”

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“[Helping others] really made me understand the importance of my platform and my voice,” he continues. “I’m just one person who was able to tap into all of these other different demographics through connections and resources...It’s opening my eyes up to my own power and my own reach.”

Although he dropped out of high school as a senior in order to pursue his career, Joey Bada$$ is acutely aware of the importance of education in order for young people to achieve a goal and succeed in their futures. So aware, in fact, that he let us in on another one of his goals for 2020: to get his GED. He says he was inspired by his mother as well as Drake, who got his GED at the age of 25 after leaving school to be on the show Degrassi (where he ironically played a student).

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“I was one of those kids who was always in the top of the class,” Joey says of his educational journey, which he wasn’t sure he’d go back to since becoming a star. “It wasn’t ‘til I got to high school where I really realized ‘Yo, I have an opportunity and now is the time to seize it.’ Granted, that had me fall back on my school a little bit because I focused on my career more...I started slacking off because of that, but I never ever thought in a million years that I’d be a kid to say I didn’t finish school. That was never my trajectory as a kid...It was really my mom who put the battery in me where it’s just like, ‘Well, you know what? I could do it and I should [get my GED].’”

Aside from working to get his diploma, Joey is placing some of the finishing touches on his forthcoming third studio album. He projects that the LP could be released within “the next three to four months,” and says the quarantine has been the perfect opportunity to flesh it out.

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“For the past couple of months, I’ve been in a really confused state for where my album is, because I didn’t know what I wanted to call it and I didn’t really have an exact thread,” he explains. “What this downtime allowed me was the time and space to really just focus on one thing, one zone, and now I have it all––I know my title, I know what it’s about, I know how I’m going to string all the facts together. My vision is super clear.” The project itself will pertain to his innermost thoughts and the depths of his mind, calling it his “most psychotherapeutic body of work yet.”

“I’m just ready to open up and speak on mental health issues,” he says. “My last album was about our collective experience as black people in America and in the world, and this one is just more about my experience in my own life. This is more personal, my most personal project yet.”

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Above all, Joey Bada$$ is most interested in making sure his vision for homeless youth is actualized through his integral partnership with two incredibly important organizations central to his native city. He believes that a little bit of help could make a huge difference in the lives of these young people, who could go on and change the world if they’re given the opportunities and means to do so.

“One of these homeless kids could be the next Joey Bada$$,” he muses. “They could be the next Diddy, they could be the next Elon Musk. But if they don’t have the resources, they might never actually get to live that potential out.”

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Musician Joey Bada$$ and a guest during the Flatbush YMCA holiday party in December 2015.
Musician Joey Bada$$ and a guest during the Flatbush YMCA holiday party in December 2015.
Photo: Sophia Chang

Pronounced "Jay-nuh."

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